WEST Vancouver is looking to the public to help shape the look and placement of future cell towers - to the extent that it can, anyway.
The municipality announced late last month that it was looking for feedback from residents on a proposed revision to its Wireless Communications Facilities Policy, a 15-year-old document that sets out guidelines for reviewing applications for antenna construction. The new regulations were hatched in response to a flood of new applications and rising public concern over the perceived health and esthetic impacts of wireless arrays.
Where the old one-page document spelt out the requirements in broad strokes - namely that applications had to be reviewed by the municipal design advisory committee and presented at a public information meetings - the new, five-page policy document is much more detailed. It outlines the district's expectations relating to three different categories of applications - rooftop communication structures, structures mounted on existing poles and cell towers - and includes guidelines focused on minimizing the visual impact of each particular type and on keeping the structures away from sensitive areas, such as schools.
The municipality has warned, however, that its power over cell tower construction only goes so far. The structures and the signals they emit are regulated by Industry Canada. And while municipalities issue the building permits - and can bounce applications back to the applicant if they don't like them - the federal body can ultimately override the community if the company and the municipality reach an impasse. Ottawa, in other words, has the final say.
The current policy review was prompted in part by a controversial proposal tabled by Rogers Wireless in January that would have seen a 30metre cell tower appear just north of Highway 1 at Taylor Way. Council balked at the idea, saying such a huge structure in such a central spot would spoil the scenery. Councillors asked the company to come back with suggestions for less obtrusive sites and to take those to a public meeting.
Rogers did that in June, and based on the feedback, returned once again to council with a revised, long-term plan for improving coverage in the area. The new proposal would see 10 30metre towers built at intervals along Hwy. 1 from the Capilano River to Horseshoe Bay. Since it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make them blend into the background, that carrier suggested instead that the towers be designed to be pleasing to the eye. The plan has yet to be approved.
It was during this back-and-forth that council decided it needed to update its policy, and in June it asked staff to do that. The Rogers proposal and other smaller plans are on hold until the revised rules have been finalized.
For more information or to give feedback on the proposed policy changes by Nov. 2, visit westvancouver.ca/celltowers.